How to make a complaint?

Contributed by LorraineFinlay and current to 27 July 2018

A complaint can be lodged by sending a letter to the relevant Committee Secretariat or can be lodged by email (see contact details below). There is no mandated format for a complaint, however individuals are encouraged to use the Model Complaint Forms, Guidelines and Fact Sheets (provided below) available for each of the particular Committees. An individual can submit a complaint without receiving any legal assistance, although having legal advice in preparing the complaint may obviously be of considerable help.

Complaints may only be lodged by individuals, with the exception of the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination which allows for group complaints. A complaint may be lodged on behalf of another person, however to do so it will be necessary to provide proof either that the other person consents to this, or that they are unable to lodge a complaint themselves.

All complaints must be made in writing, and must be written in one of the official United Nations languages (either Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish). A complaint should not exceed 50 pages (excluding annexes), with any complaint over 20 pages including a short summary highlighting the key aspects of the complaint.

There are also certain formal requirements that must be met, with each complaint required to provide the following details:
  • Basic personal information about the alleged victim, including their name, nationality, date of birth, mailing address and email;
  • Identify the State party against whom the complaint is made;
  • Identify the treaty rights that the alleged breach relate to;
  • Set out in chronological order the facts upon which the complaint is based;
  • Explain why the described facts amount to a breach of the relevant treaty;
  • Indicate the remedies that are being sought if the complaint is upheld;
  • Outline the steps taken to exhaust local remedies;
  • State whether or not the case has been considered by any other international body or mechanism.
Copies of all relevant documents need to be included with the complaint, especially copies of any relevant judicial decisions that have been made in relation to the claim.

If any of the above information is not provided, the Committee may request additional details or resubmission. If any requested information is not received within a year, the complaint will be closed and no further action will be taken.

A person making a complaint may request anonymity, and ask that the Committee not disclose their name and any identifying facts or elements about the case in their final decision. Committees may also decide to do this of their own accord if they are dealing with particularly sensitive matters of a private or personal nature.

There are time limits that apply to the submission of some complaints. In particular, complaints to the Human Rights Committee may be considered an abuse of the right of submission and ruled inadmissible if submitted more than five years after the exhaustion of local remedies, unless there are particular reasons to justify the delay. Complaints to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination must be made within six months of local remedies being exhausted. There are no specific time limits applied by the other Committees, although it is preferable to lodge any complaint without undue delay.

There is no direct fee that must be paid when a complaint is lodged, however individuals will likely incur some costs in preparing a complaint, particularly in terms of meeting the requirement that local remedies have been exhausted.

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